Ps 139:1-12, 23-24
The Psalm Helene just read is one of my all-time favorites – I love Psalm 139. It is such poetry, such beautiful imagery – If I take the wings of the morning …..” Maybe you read the children’s story “The Runaway Bunny,” about the mother rabbit who would always find her baby bunny, no matter where that baby went. That’s the message of this psalm – Ah. So lovely. So comforting. But, is it?
Because all of a sudden, reading and re-reading this text, I realized: It’s not entirely clear if the psalmist – the person who wrote these beautiful words – Was comforted or concerned that there is no escaping our Maker. Is it consoling or frightening? That our God knows every single thing – Everything we’ve tried to keep hidden and locked away, everything we’re proud of, everything we’re deeply ashamed of, what happens to us under stress, how quickly we lose our patience, all our regrets and all our rejoicings – All of it – All of it, is known to the Lord. Dark, light, daytime, nighttime, it’s all the same to the Creator. Is the Psalmist strengthened to know, God is always right there, or scared? Is this good news, or bad news?
It’s such a mix – It’s like the hymn Natalie played, “Gather Us In:”
Gather us in, the lost and forsaken;
Gather us in, the rich and the haughty,
Gather us in, the proud and the strong.
We are all those things, sometimes all at once. And God knows.
God knows, all the ways we are lost and forsaken, especially now, facing this pandemic that just goes on and on and on. God knows the ways we are the rich and the haughty, especially now, when we look at other countries who are so much better at stopping the outbreak of covid-19 AND letting society open up bit by bit. God knows the ways we are the proud, and the strong, and how that gets in our way, and how that keeps us going. The good and the bad of it all: Our dark sides, our gifts, our shadow sides, our generosities, our prides and jealousies, insecurities and anxieties, our loves and our hates, our fears and fantasies - God knows.
Does this comfort you, or disturb you, make you secure, make you squirm? Probably, I’m guessing, both. We are surrounded, hemmed in behind and before, God’s hand is laid upon us.
To hear “you are surrounded,” can be comforting, or it can be frightening – When the police yell on television shows, “Come out with your hands up; we have you surrounded!” it’s clearly not a good thing to be surrounded.
In the show “Hamilton,” when the chorus sings “Right Hand Man:
“British Admiral Howe's got troops on the water
Thirty-two thousand troops in New York harbor
Thirty-two thousand troops in New York harbor
When they surround our troops
They surround our troops
When they surround our troops ….”
It’s not a good thing, to be surrounded.
But maybe right now, under these particular circumstances, we can know it as a good thing. To again quote Hamilton lyrics, - Because I know so many people have been watching it – When you are “outgunned and out(manned,) outnumbered and out planned” – Which, honestly, look around – We surely are right now as a country, as a world, by this little sneaky invisible virus doing its virus thing – Now what?
The psalmist puts it this way, in one translation (the CEB) says in verse 23 : “Examine me, God! Look at my heart! Put me to the test! Know my anxious thoughts!” Because yeah, our thoughts are anxious these days. God, you are acquainted with all our ways – You know we don’t do so great with so much change and such an unclear path ahead. Everyone is having to decide for themselves and their family the amount of risk they are comfortable taking, and it’s so easy to feel judged for our decisions, and to judge others for theirs.
One man at LPC said according to one adult child, he was being reckless; according to another adult child, he was being paranoid and over-reacting.
I liked how blunt the pastor of the the North Point mega-church in Atlanta, which has 5 campuses, put it when he was interviewed recently, because he started off by saying something like, “As a local church, we have limited time, limited staff, and limited resources.” And I so appreciated that, because that’s how everything feels right now – We have to re-define, re-prioritize, re-think every aspect of our lives.
And so, I’m comforted to know that my Creator knows our every weakness and our every strength. Knows our tendencies, what paths we default to, which ways we take when we don’t know which way is right. Our Lord is inviting us to redefine what it means to be a good parent; a good spouse; a good employee; a good citizen; a good Christian; a person of faith.
We thought we had that figured out in the “olden days,” as I like to call 2019, pre-pandemic – how to be good and faithful – We thought we knew who Jesus was and what God wanted from us. And now, we’re invited to figure out who Jesus is, and who we’re called to be, in this new and different time, when our resources of time and energy, patience and wifi are limited. What really matters?
Serene Jones in the introduction to her book “Call It Grace” suggests that “theology,” that is, (asking ourselves) about the meaning of (our) life, of the world, and the possibility of God … is a universal human endeavor…something we all do, … (because) theology simply names the human search for what is ultimately true.”
This pandemic is taking so much – and now that kids aren’t going to school in the Fall, it’s also taking a bit of parents’ sanity – But it also giving us this opportunity to re-negotiate, re-prioritize, and re-think: Here, now, in this place, where the hymn says, “Here in this place, the new light is streaming; shadows of doubt are vanished away. See in this space, our fears and our dreaming brought here to you in the light of this day…..not just in buildings, small and confining, not in some heaven light years away, here in this time, the new light is shining, now is God present and now is the day. Gather us in and hold us forever, gather us in and make us your own; gather us in, all peoples together, fire of love in our flesh and our bone.”
Church is Alicia, organizing the Mary and Martha group to see one another at a local park, under a big outdoor pavilion, masks and all, catching up with our dear friends. Church is meeting outside to pray together. Church is bringing over 300 pounds of food to the parking lot to be delivered so Dot can take it to LARS, because our pantries are full. Church is Gail volunteering at the Maryland Foodbank. Church is writing checks to LARS to help with the many, many evictions, because we have a roof over our heads. Church is friends meeting on driveways. Church is giving up worrying what you look like or sound like, and signing up to read scripture. Church is asking the question, what can I do, who can I help, how can I help, how can I serve, in these new circumstances.
Lord, we had an idea what faithful living looked like in the “olden days,” before covid-19. Lead us now in your way everlasting, that we can figure out what faithful living looks like in the midst of this pandemic. Give us courage to re-define, re-think, and re-prioritize how to be your people. Give us courage to let go of what isn’t important. Give us clarity to hold fast to what is necessary, even as you hold fast to us, in Christ.